By Edward M. Swinamer
Riverview began its early association with aviation in the late 1940s and early 1930s. In that era, Maritime Central Airways (MCA) and Trans Canada Airelines (TCA) were fledgling post World War II civil air transportation carriers using small short haul aircraft (DC3's and Lockheed 10's). Flight crew members and regional dispatchers were headquartered at Moncton Airport. These individuals sought a little different life styles than the average urban dweller. Riverview became a community to their liking - an urban surburb with a wide open rural setting and atmosphere.
As aviation grew and prospered so did the support systems associated with its safety and well-being. Air Traffic Control is one such system and it too found a new home in Riverview some 30 years after the first pilots settled in the community.
Air Traffic Control also had its roots in World War II. It was initiated as a means of providing some measure of safety and security for the myriads of fighter, bomber and reconnaissance aircraft on missions. The North Atlantic convoy air patrols and ferry squadrons destined for the European conflict area needed crucial information such as weather, navigation assistance, communications and directions to successfully carry out their missions. Thus the wartime air control service for Atlantic Canada and the North Atlantic Ocean was established in Halifax in 1943 as a branch of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Following termination of hostilities the Halifax control facility was transferred from National Defence to the Department of Transportation and relocated at Moncton Airport in January 1946. Moncton, being the communications centre for Atlantic Canada, was a natural location from which to launch an expanded Air Traffic Control system. This new centre of activity controlled the sky over all of eastern Canada. Newfoundland and later the North Atlantic Ocean as far as 30 degrees west longitude. With a network of radio range stations and low frequency beacons, radio operators and air traffic controllers, the 'traffic cops in the sky,' now provided the safety separation for machines travelling upward to nearly 200 miles per hours (320km/H).
In 1949, however, as one of the many terms of confederation for the province of Newfoundland, Mr. Smallwood wanted control of the sky over his new province and the North Atlantic. Thus the eastern portion of Moncton's control area was moved to Gander and became the Gander Oceanic Control Centre, along with a number of the staff from the Moncton Centre.
The early control centre facility at Moncton Airport was housed in an old wartime administration building. In 1951 the Air Traffic Control Centre was relocated in a new Department of Transport hangar while still under construction. This structure also housed the administration offices of the Regional Civil Aviation Branches of the Department of Transport. Unfortunately, this new occupancy was short lived, as a spark from a welder's torch set off a major uncontrollable conflagration and the building was leveled in a few hours.
Special contingency measures had to be put in place rapidly to maintain sky safety. Subsequently, air traffic control was temporarily shifted to the C.N. Telegraph operations facility and the Radio Range Communications facility until new space and equipment was made available in the airport terminal building in late 1952. Thus the air terminal building became the home for air traffic control for nearly twenty-seven years but not without further problems.
As the volume of air traffic grew and the speed and size of aircraft increased, the control system came under great pressure to cope. Radar was first installed in the Moncton Air Control Centre in 1960. This system required more space and by 1967 the ACC had expanded and outgrown most of the second floor level of the Air Terminal Building. In 1968 a new 'operations' wing was added to the Air Terminal Building. Air traffic control, both the control centre and new control tower, along with telecommunications and meteorology found another new home. In this new facility ATC had its first taste of the real age of electronics.
But alas, progress fosters change and by 1971 the entire aviation industry was scrambling to meet the age of electronics heads-on. New computers, communications and automated radar systems were required to maintain pace with the increasing volume of air traffic. These new computerized systems would require an entirely new type of environment - temperature and humidity control, electro-magnetic interference free areas, and adequate space for 'back-up' systems. Thus, in 1971 the need for a new control centre was born.
In April 1972 the Regional Administrator of Transport Canada-Air, directed three Transport Canada employees to establish a special project term. This team was assigned the task of preparing an "Operational Plan" for a new air traffic control centre.
It took not too long for the word to spread through political circles that Moncton was to receive a major government project in the form of a new Air Traffic Control Centre. The Regional Administrator, M. Thomas Prescott, was at once pressured from four sides - the city of Moncton, the Town of Dieppe, the Village or Riverview and the federal riding of Wesmorland - to ensure that the new control centre would be constructed and operated in their respective community.
It was estimated in the preliminary Operational Plan and Treasury Board Submission that a new centre would require approximately 75 thousand square feet of space (not metric then) and would cost approximately $4.25 million to construct and nearly $8 million to equip and furnish - a sizable size of federal funds in the early 70s and everyone wanted a piece of the action.
Two members of the original special team, Russ Read of Moncton and Edward Swimamer of Riverview were retained to re-manage the project through the detailed planning, and development to operational stages. First task was to select an adequate site. Laying political pressure aside and proceeding strictly on a technical operational basis a 40 acres section of the former Coverdale Navy Base was selected. This site met all of the criteria from a technical point and also had the advantage of being federal goverment property thus avoiding costly land acquisition. The 'head' was off the Regional Administrator.
The ACC communications system is unique, in that its link with the world around it, is via the N.B. Telephone Tower in Moncton via microwave. The radar signals are also transmitted to the ACC via microwave from the radar site northeast of the airport. These systems required special 'aerial' zoning corridors be established to avoid future obstruction. These zoning rights were negotiated with the City of Moncton the Town of Dieppe and the new Town of Riverview through the offices of the Greater Moncton Town Planning Commission.
The building structure was started in July of 1975 and completed in the spring of 1978. Electronic systems, now in production for the Canadian ATC operation, were delivered and installed during 1977-78 by Transport Canada engineers and technicians.
Prior to operational acceptance a major testing and training program was undertaken for the controllers, assistants and technicians. This all took place while maintaining full operational status at the airport control centre. Transition from the old centre (airport( to the new control centre in Riverview took place on schedule over a two week period in the early winter of 1979.
The new control centre was planned and designed for at least a 50 year life expectancy with built-in expansion space so that the pitfalls of earlier years would not be repeated. Structurally, the building is capable of external expansion should the need ever arise.
But, as indicated earlier in this treatise, progress fosters change - or with time passage change is inevitable. Indeed change has occurred since the Riverview (Moncton) Air Traffic Control Centre commenced operations in 1979. Just as in 1949 political winds of Newfoundlands's Confederation resulted in the Control of the North Atlantic going to Gander, the political winds of Quebec's hurst for separation caused the move of all airspace over the province of Quebec to change jurisdiction from Moncton ACC to Montreal ACC. This effectively reduced Moncton's airspace of nearly one million square miles to approximately one-half the area and had the result of reducing staff requirements by approximately 40% in just over four years.
Today, the Air Traffic Control Centre in Riverview is responsible for the control of air traffic and flight information services over the three Maritime Provinces, the Gulf of St. Lawrence (except Quebec), and Labrador. It still retains control over southern Quebec between Labrador and the St. Lawrence River in the High Level Structure because of its radar and communications capabilities. The Centre is interfaced with adjacent control centres at Gander, Montreal, Boston, New York, for the routine exchange of domestic and international air traffic control data and with other Canadian, U.S.A.., European and Carribean Centres for data exchange should the need arise.
What the future holds for the continuing operations fot he Air Traffic Control Centre in Riverview, New Brunswick will undoubtedly float on the sea of continuing change through time, governments, technology and main's ability (or lack of it) to foster conditions of progress, favourable or adverse depending on whose eyes behold the outcome.